How to successfully manage and engage your virtual team
The wide availability of high-speed internet, longer commutes, and easier access to quality talent located globally have made virtual work seem like the future of work, for a while now. In theory, it should work like a charm – organizations do not need to buy or rent as much expensive commercial real-estate as before, and employees get to spend their most productive hours doing quality work instead of braving rush-hour traffic.
In practice though, fundamental challenges have limited the rate at which organizations have integrated virtual workers as a natural part of the modern workforce. The primary issues around integrating virtual workers are both around trust, or the lack of it, namely:
- In the absence of well-established processes around setting goals and tracking performance, managers fall back on biases and preconceptions around hours spent at the office, and other such anachronistic mental models
- On the other side of the equation, for the virtual worker trying to gain visibility in the absence of objective productivity metrics, there is undue pressure to justify working virtually by trying to focus more on time spent at work.
How then, do we make virtual work, work?
As it happens, the most effective way to manage employees in a way that is agnostic to the location is to follow a set of well-defined guidelines around goal setting, performance tracking, and transparent communication:
- Virtual teams and their managers benefit from clear objective setting, along with key result definitions, that are mutually agreed-upon. This leads to a focus on actual productivity towards the achievement of goals by the employee, instead of a counter-productive fixation on the appearance of work. For the manager, instead of relying on subjective assessments, she gets to focus on tracking objective (or near-objective) metrics of progress.
- As the saying goes, out of sight is out of mind, and in the context of a manager and virtual reportee, this is especially relevant. A framework for ongoing structured conversation is a must, for multiple reasons. They can be to update the employee on the company or team-wide strategic objectives, and changes therein, and how they relate to the individuals’ goals. Alternatively, they can also be an opportunity for an employee to seek clarifications and ask questions around the broader context around specific projects they are working on. At other times, a brief conversation to check how a virtual employee is doing and if they need any support from the organization to best fulfill their responsibilities might prove helpful.
- All employees, and ones located virtually more-so need a regular cadence for re-calibration of objectives, checking in on progress towards key results, and objective feedback for improvement. This ensures that irrespective of location, an employee’s goals are always mapped closely to the teams’ and are being tracked in a way that is transparent to everyone. For the employee, being part of a team-wide process that is data-dependent and objective without any bias towards where one is located, makes it easier to focus on doing one’s best work as part of the team.
The technology to enable effective virtual work is here and the economic and social needs are indisputable. All that is left is for organizations to put in place formal processes around making individuals feel they are part of a broader whole working towards common objectives, to unleash the flexibility and productivity that effective virtual work can truly deliver.
About the author
Samawat Shakil is Content Manager at GroSum, all-around employee performance, and compensation management software for organizations of all sizes that includes weekly check-ins, objectives (OKR) tracking, 360-degree feedback, and meaningful reviews.